TRAVELLING TO BALLINA
I still remember the first time I visited the northern New South Wales beaches many years ago, and how impressed I was with the surf, long beach walks and rolling sand dunes. The long stretches of white sand, blue sea and good surf on South Ballina beach, on the north coast, brought all that back.
We stayed at Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park on the shores of calm Shaws Bay Lake. On our arrival, we were given a welcome pack containing a site plan of the park and a town map. The site plan also included the direction to point your TV antenna – welcome advice for those without a signal finder.
Some sites and cabins are lakeside, which makes this calm, shallow, saltwater lake a marvellous playground for the children who fill the park in the school holidays.
A member of the Top Tourist Parks group, this 4.5-star rated park is about 700m from the breakwater and Lighthouse surf beach.
Ballina Lakeside has parkland on two sides as well as lake frontage, and this quiet environment should be a magnet for older RVers in the touring season. The sub-tropical gardens in the park also appealed to us. Shaws Bay Lake is the focal point for activities for both kids and adults. As it was school holidays when we visited, we saw bream and whiting caught by excited children catching their first fish. We were told that flathead are also a popular catch.
There were other kids playing on surfboards, canoes, kayaks and all types of watercraft. Adults were windsurfing and fishing, or just playing with their children. At the end of the day, families took a drink to the grassy area by the water’s edge to watch the last of the sun’s rays, or cooked dinner on the barbecues nearby.
The park features an 18-hole mini golf course in a landscaped setting, and a jumping pillow. A children’s playground lies between this and the swimming pools – one is a water adventure pool for kids and one is for adults. Overlooking the pools is a very large indoor camp kitchen. There is also a games room and a theatre plays movies at 6.30pm. The theatre also doubles as a function room. There is a full gymnasium and a volleyball court on the grass near the beach.
The office has a small kiosk with the basics, such as drinks and ice, as well as a supply of tourist brochures and a public phone. The main amenity block has a 24-hour laundry and a dump point, and there is a smaller amenity block with laundry and disabled facilities.
Many parks in New South Wales have a section for permanents, and here they are mostly in a separate area, with well cared for homes and gardens.
PET-FRIENDLY CARAVAN PARK IN BALLINA
In the last two years, Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park made the carefully-considered decision to accept small dogs, to give those travelling with their pets somewhere to stay in Ballina. The policy on what types of dogs are accepted has been made in accordance with local authority guidelines on breeds suitable for children.
A separate lakeside dog area has been created. The well-grassed, large sites are situated beside parkland where dogs can be exercised off leash. There are some ensuite sites included in the dog area. This seems to be a good compromise, in a top position in this park. But, because of the popularity of the park in school holidays, no dogs are allowed at these times.
Another possible initiative is non-smoking sites for guests. The owner is currently considering an area dedicated for non-smokers, so ask if you are booking ahead.
As well as powered sites, there are sites for tents and camper trailers, and you have a choice of waterfront, drive-through, grass or concrete slab. For those who don’t bring their own accommodation, there are several different types and styles of cabins and bungalows, including waterfront ones.
All the roads are sealed, apart from a short stretch in the dog-friendly section, although sealing this one is on the agenda. Digital TV reception on all channels was perfect, and we had five bars on our Telstra NextG mobile phone and wireless broadband.
Ballina Lakeside Holiday Park is located about 3km from town, and walking distance (600-700m) from the breakwall and surf beach. We walked from the van park to the surf beach in less than 10 minutes. The park was booked out with lots of families during our visit, but I think grey nomads would love this place during other times of the year, particularly in autumn and late winter/spring.
Shaws Bay Lake has a grated pipeline to the inlet, allowing tidal salt water to get in and out, but not big fish and sharks. Smaller fish and fingerlings, such as bream, whiting and flathead can come in and they grow in the lake, so fishing just in front of the RV site is very good. While I did not fish, Denyse and I saw fish being caught each day. Even if you do not catch any keepers, there is always the Fishermans Co-op, just on the south side of town, where fresh fish are brought in, filleted and sold every day.
Ballina lies at the entrance to the Richmond River and has a population of around 40,000 people. There are two major shopping centres with Woolworths, Big W, Coles, IGA and Kmart and many other shops you would expect in a town of this size. The town has two golf courses and bowling clubs. The RSL club on the waterfront is a good place to eat.
Lighthouse Lookout is just a short drive (or a good morning walk from your site for the health conscious) from the park for a great view out over the ocean and breakwall guarding the harbour entrance. We saw several large sharks around the rocks below on a previous visit. An impressive new surf club was being built overlooking the beach, and it should be finished by the time you read this. The surf club will serve meals and would be popular with RVers as it is within walking distance. Surfers love the break near the entrance to the harbour, and you may see trawlers operating not far offshore from here.
If you follow the road north, it will lead you to the Pat Morton Lookout overlooking Lennox Head and then down to the beach.
Denyse and I had some wet days when we were at Ballina so we took the car ferry over to the other side of the Richmond River and drove on the mostly-sealed road to South Ballina Beach. This leads to the Richmond River Nature Reserve and, if you have a 4WD, you have access to the beach where you can drive south for many miles.
For us, though, it was wet and stormy and we were content to take a few pics of this long, isolated beach and waves crashing on the breakwall.
The Northern Rivers district of New South Wales is famous for its markets. There is a well-publicised roster of towns holding markets every month, so you can be sure of having a market to visit every weekend at a nearby village. There is a wonderful array of fresh produce (including organic) and appealing items.
We have stayed in Ballina a few times now and, this time, we visited in April. The temperature was a very comfortable 26°C down to about 16-17°C at night, even though the weather was showery. Our site was quite sheltered and we loved to see families having so much fun together.
We feel this area and this park are good inclusions for the touring RVer. To make it even more attractive, Ballina Lakeside offers very significant discounts to those who stay a month or longer.
Ballina is on the far northern New South Wales coast, about two hours’ drive south of Brisbane and an hour south of Queensland’s Gold Coast. You can reach it by a short drive off the Pacific Highway or from the Bruxner Highway from Lismore and Tenterfield.
Fishing, surfing, beach and bushwalks, fun with the kids in calm Shaws Bay Lake, markets every weekend, shopping and coastal and national park drives.
Ballina Visitor Information Centre: 1800 777 666 www.discoverballina.com.
Originally published in Caravan World #519, October/November 2013.